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Russian Airlines Ask To Return Planes To Lessors

SimpleFlying 7/5/2022 Charlotte Seet
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For the first time since the beginning of the economic sanctions, two Russian airlines have asked the Ministry of Transport for permission to return some aircraft to foreign lessors. The applications were submitted in April and May, but the ministry has yet to respond.

Request to return the MAX

One of the Russian airlines was S7, which wished to return two Boeing 737 MAX. The two aircraft are currently not certified, and any operation of the aircraft type was banned due to the two fatal accidents in Ethiopia and Indonesia. Re-certification for the aircraft was never carried out, making the two Boeing 737 MAX entirely redundant in the fleet of S7.

While the possibility of re-certification was already thin, the sanctions in light of the Russia-Ukraine conflict made the prospect even thinner. Regarding the request to return the two Boeing 737 MAX, S7 commented:

"It is true we requested an application for the return of two Boeing 737-8 MAX to the lessor due to the lack of a type certification in the Russian Federation, and accordingly, the impossibility of its operation."

S7 currently operates a predominantly Airbus fleet, with the majority comprising Airbus A320s and A321s. The second biggest Russian carrier also had a handful of Embraer 170 and only has about 17 Boeing 737-800 in active service. Given the current dominance, S7 could become an all-Airbus operator. Still, the sanctions could hinder this ambition and might force the airline to choose some homegrown aircraft alternatives.

S7 has been unable to access aircraft or parts manufactured by either Airbus or Boeing, nor has it been able to keep contracts with any Europe-based lessors for new aircraft. Photo: Airbus

Request to return the Queen

The request to return two aircraft seems modest compared to the second Russian airline, the Volga-Dnepr Group-owned AirBridgeCargo (ABC). In stark contrast to S7, the cargo carrier has intentions to return 14 out of 16 Boeing 747 freighters, all of which are currently stored at Sheremetyevo Airport. One of the remaining two freighters has been in Sharjah since February, while the other sits at Marana Airport.

Due to the sanctions, the Volga-Dnepr Group has had to suspend operations of ABC temporarily, which would explain the intent to return that many freighters. The Group expects to return the Boeing 747 freighters to lessors and transfer them to Eithad Cargo under the lessor Dubai Aerospace Enterprise. Alongside the Gulf carrier, the Group hopes to circumvent the Western restrictions and be able to operate the freighters for continued operations jointly.

Etihad Cargo currently operates Boeing 777 freighters. A deal to take on ABC's fleet could be advantageous in terms of additional capacity and the ability for nose-loading with the Boeing 747 freighters. The new Etihad unit would effectively be the same as ABC, with sales primarily conducted by a new entity comprised of Volga-Dnepr Groups' former European GSA and AirFreight Logistics. Revenue-sharing is expected if the deal proceeds as legally possible.

Alexei Isaikin, Chairman of the Board of Directions of the Volga-Dnepr ABC, said:

“The success of the enterprise will depend on whether the lawyers of both sides find a way to operate the aircraft, taking into account the US sanctions imposed on them and British sanctions against them. The decision on AirBridgeCargo has been preliminarily agreed at the government level and could be made in August or September."

BOC Aviation has already regained one of the three aircraft it had leased to AirBridgeCargo. Photo: Getty Images

Bottom line

There is no real purpose for the aircraft to remain inside Russia, where the Boeing 737 MAX will probably never gain authorization and will never see an active operational day. On the other hand, the Boeing 747 freighters can be utilized but are at serious risk of not being well maintained due to the absence of parts or technical support. The requests were made a few months ago, and though proposals usually go through several minister cabinets for coordination and proper review, the lack of response from the ministry is still surprising.

Source: Kommersant

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